Addressing misinformation and rumours about vaccines in your community
Verify before you amplify
We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.
A lot of rumours have been circulating in relation to the new COVID-19 vaccines, both in Ghana and around the world. Such rumours can engender fear, ambivalence and can set back the progress made against combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are some tips on how to respond to misinformation:
- Do not scare, humiliate or accuse other person even if you do not agree with him or her. Although you may be right, a feeling of resentment can evoke angry responses from your friends or family members.
- Don’t focus on the negative examples from other people because it may lead to its adoption. People tend to act as others do - ‘if others are not doing it, why shouldn't I?’, ‘If others do this, so can I’.
- Don’t persuade people that their viewpoints are wrong. Efforts to debunk deeply rooted myths is not only ineffective but may re-enforce these misconceptions. By highlighting some relevant examples, you allow your friends the opportunity to change their position without losing confidence,
- Don’t repeat myths. People often memorize inaccurate information, so it makes sense not to debunk myths, but rather to create a different storyline. Respond to myths with simple and catchy facts,
- Correct misconceptions while acknowledging that you understand people's confusion and feelings - “I understand your confusion but I would like to encourage you to rely on reputable and authoritative sources of information, such as our health care workers and public health officials. Let's listen to them, make informed choices and stay up to date."
- Highlight example of others - “A lot of countries have successfully started vaccination against COVID-19 and the number of severe COVID-19 cases has decreased. let's protect ourselves as others did”.
- Share stories and examples of yourself and other people you know that suffered from COVID-19 complications - “COVID-19 can cause severe complications, may require hospitalization or even be deadly. Vaccination can protect you from the lethal consequences of the disease”.
- Be empathetic and emphasise the fact that it is a shared interest of all to overcome the pandemic – “It is easier to prevent the virus than to treat it. Get vaccinated before it is too late”.
Managing Misinformation of COVID-19 - a Case Study
Ghana was one of the first countries in Africa to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX facility. UNICEF has supported the roll out of the National Communication Campaign on COVID-19 vaccine together with the key stakeholders led by the Ghana Health Service.
Research during the first vaccination roll out has provided evidence to place increased emphasis on vaccine safety and efficiency, rumour management and hesitancy among community leaders.
Access to information on the COVID-19 vaccine has been increased however many people find it difficult to distil the right information and have expressed concerns about the vaccine, mainly driven by misinformation from social media, broadcast media and rumors spread by word-of-mouth.
To help curb the negative effects of misinformation, UNICEF Ghana helped establish of a Misinformation Task Force with the Ghana Health Service, the Food and Drugs Authority, USAID and other developing partners to coordinate and support the national communication teams.
Under the supervision of the Health Promotion Division of Ghana Health Service the Misinformation Task Force focuses on the daily monitoring of rumors and misinformation, analysis and response strategy.
Successful interventions and responses to misinformation are only effective when there is an understanding of how people think and feel and what motivates them to overcome hesitancy.
Diversification of channels and prioritization of high-risk groups by using data-driven and iterative problem-solving processes and trusted spokespeople seem to work best. Combat the existing misinformation and rumours by the task force is successful when the responses are designed with the communities and are based on an understanding of the target population, their challenges and existing knowledge gaps.
New findings of behaviour science should be integrated into the design of the responses.
Combating misinformation and rumours on COVID-19 vaccines need high speed reactions. Connecting with existing initiatives and resources has shown positive impact and sped up the response design.
Another important success factor is the integration of local influencers for responding on misinformation. They boost the response quote and support in spreading the right messages. To become even more successful in the future, it is necessary to include rapid experiments to test designed responses and messages on their effectiveness.